Driving Torque

Articles, reviews and opinions about cars and all things automotive

Archive for the month “June, 2014”

Suzuki Swift DDiS SZ4 – Driven and Reviewed

suzuki swift ddis frontSomewhere in the deepest, darkest recesses of my grey matter, in a place that’s seldom visited, and even then only in extreme situations, there’s been a little factoid swimming around for years, and now seems the perfect time for it to see the light of day once more; If I remember rightly, the Suzuki Swift Gti from the ’90’s was the quickest 1.3 on the market at the time – don’t know why that stuck in my mind, but since I heard it, I’ve looked at this little hatch slightly differently.

suzuki swift ddis rear and sideThe Swift has grown up somewhat in recent times, literally; Gone are the cutesy looks that often drew comparisons with a mouse, and in their place is something that’s not only much larger, but altogether easier to take seriously. That said, the Swift’s still all about easy, user-friendly motoring and is primarily aimed at people who’ll appreciate a car for its abilities in a multi-storey car park, not necessarily how it handles  a cross-continent schlep.

suzuki swift ddis front and sideI spent most of my week with the Swift noticing other Swifts and refusing to believe they were cut from the same cloth. That’s because the Swift is one of those cars that’s infinitely bigger once you’re in them than you’d believe by looking at them – the old analogy being a Tardis car. The amount of room on offer inside is very impressive – I think you’d struggle to feel as comfortable in anything else in this class. Of course, there has to be a trade-off for all of this room, and in the case of the Swift, it’s a tad short in the boot department. At a piffling 211 litres, you could actually say it’s very short in the boot department compared to its rivals. Obviously you could put the rear seats down which gives you a whopping 528 litres capacity, but if you plan on carrying large loads without having to leave the kids at home, I’d look elsewhere.

Not the biggest boot in the world.......

Not the biggest boot in the world…….

Diminutive boot aside, the interior feels well screwed together and sensibly thought out. It’s definitely not the most inspiring design in the world, with some fairly bland areas of black plastic, but the materials used belie the bargain nature of the Swift and there’s some nice highlights and splashes of brushed metal that add a more premium feel to the car. One aspect that unfortunately feels anything but premium though, is the media system. It’s apparently equipped with Bluetooth technology or you can plug your phone directly in via USB – neither option worked particularly well with my iPhone and after they flatly refused to communicate with each other, I just gave up on the whole affair. Thankfully though, the latest SZ4 models are apparently supplied with a far more user friendly Bluetooth system, and DAB and nav – I’ve not seem them in action but I’m guessing they’re a vast improvement on our test car’s disappointing effort.

suzuki swift ddis interiorOne mod con that did work especially well on our range-topping SZ4 model was the keyless entry system. I know they’re widely available and hardly even cutting edge anymore, but I don’t recall a system ever working so reliably, certainly not on a car of this class, anyway. Coupled with the Swift’s Stop-Start button, it really makes the whole task of getting kids or shopping into and out of the car far quicker and simpler – very handy when it’s throwing it down too!

This particular Swift is propelled by a an engine with a 1300cc capacity, just as the Swift Gti from the ’90s was, but that’s just about where the similarities end. This multi award-winning JTD Diesel unit has been borrowed from Fiat and is you can see why Suzuki were keen to utilise it in their Swift – it returns over 70mpg combined, will only cost 20 quid a year to tax and isn’t even that slow (12.7s – 62mph), even if the Fiat engine does take a while to spool up and then delivers all of its power in one almighty, old school style slug.

suzuki swift ddis rearBut this isn’t the engine I’d plump for though. Ignoring the Swift Sport that’s available with a 1.6l petrol, it’s a choice of two units – this Diesel or a 1.2 petrol, and without even driving it, I’d go for the petrol. Wanna know why? – It’s down to cost – The Diesel engined Swift is only available in this SZ4 version that we have on test here, and at £15,139, it’s just too much for what you get. Put it this way – for the same money you could have a Fiesta Zetec with their excellent EcoBoost engine and just about every optional extra you care to name. And a far larger boot.

What makes more sense, then, is to opt for the 1.2l petrol engine. Yes, it loses out slightly in the emissions argument, and it only claims a combined 56.5 mpg, but it’s marginally quicker to 62mph (12.3s) and if you order your Swift before the end of June, it’s available for an impressive £8,999 – now that makes sense. In the interest of fairness, that same offer makes the Diesel variant £12,616 OTR, but just think how long it would take you to recoup the extra £3.5k in fuel and VED savings if you opted for the oil burner.

suzuki swift ddis rear lightWhat’s also important to point out here is that whichever Swift you opt for, it’s really good fun to drive. I wouldn’t think pinpoint turning and a well weighted chassis is really a prerequisite in a car of this price, but if you do get the urge to throw a Swift around a bit, it won’t disappoint. If you look at the way it’s engineered – with a wheel stuck in each corner, it’s no surprise that handling is one of its strong suits, but without some thought, Suzuki could easily have messed up this most pleasant of features.

The Swift has many good points, and some not-so-great. If you’re insistent on owning a Diesel or ferrying lots of luggage around, I’d look elsewhere, but if you want a bit of a bargain that’s attractive and fun to drive – it s definitely worth considering.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Suzuki Swift DDiS SZ4, Engine – 1.3l Diesel, four-cylinder turbocharged, Transmission – 5 speed manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 190NM @ 1750rpm, Emissions – 101g/km CO2, Economy – 72.4mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 103 mph, Acceleration – 12.7s 0-62mph, Price – £15,139 OTR (available for £12,616 until 30/6/2014), £15,569 as tested. 

For full details, go to http://www.suzuki.co.uk/cars/cars

Fiat Panda TwinAir – Driven and Reviewed

Fiat Panda TwinAir frontFour cylinder engines are just soooooo unfashionable these days you know, many people wouldn’t be seen dead in one. With many manufacturers offering a three cylinder in their range, Fiat have decided to go one step further with their ecotastic offering and have lopped another cylinder off, leaving us with their somewhat diminutive 0.9l TwinAir unit, as found in our test car – this rather natty looking Panda in (2wd) range-topping Lounge spec.

Fiat Panda side and frontThe Panda is one of those cars that doesn’t seem to be trying too hard to look good, it’s no retro pastiche, nor is it splattered with graphics and wild colours, it just is. Square was undoubtedly the order of the day when it came down to designing just about every element of the body, and the interior, and the dashboard. In fact, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a Fiat designer somewhere, left haunted and frustrated by his failure to reinvent the wheel – these conventional round  ones just clash with the rest of the car.

Fiat Panda side and rearNow in its third generation, the Panda is  looking more substantial and altogether more grown-up than the last version, especially in this optional, sensible colour and Lounge spec with 15” alloys and chunky side mouldings to add some interest to the fairly flat sides. It may appeal to me but I can see how the boxy shape might not be everyone’s cup of espresso – take the side and rear windows out and you’re left with Postman Patrizio’s van. Use the Panda for a while, though, and you’ll grow to love the practicality of the whole thing; parking just doesn’t get any easier than when you can see all four corners, and that square loading area will carry more than you’d warrant – especially with the rear seat folded down.

Love the quirky nature of the cabin - not to sure about that foot-rest though!

Love the quirky nature of the cabin – not too sure about that foot-rest though!

Car interiors are increasingly hard to tell from one model to the next – it makes financial sense to design one cabin and then modify the shape and size for every car in the fleet. It’s nice to see, then, that the Panda’s living space is so bespoke, even down to the eye-level plastics that have the letters P, A, N and D imprinted onto them, albeit on a very small-scale; details like that impress me – I know, it’s not hard. The commitment to avoiding anything circular continues to the point of obsession in here, too. Again, the way Fiat have made new knobs and dials shows a devotion to the Panda brand – possibly best exemplified by the 1cm²  plastic trim pieces used to cover up those oh-so-unsightly speedo and rev-counter needle hubs – yep, you guessed it – square.

Fiat Panda rearThat lofty image comes into its own again when the subject of passenger comfort comes into account. The headroom is enough for anyone up to about 6’3”, and that’s not just in the front seats. The only aspect of driving the Panda that I did find uncomfortable was the way the transmission tunnel impinged onto my left knee; I’m guessing that something was lost in translation when moving the pedals from LHD to RHD as, without actually surgically removing my left foot, there’s no way I was going to plonk it on the foot rest – that could grow tiresome on a long motorway schlep.

Look closely......

Look closely……

But what about that engine? Well, this is surely the best part of an already fairly impressive car. The claimed 67.3mpg might not be achievable in the real world, but what’s undoubtedly true is that it slips in just below that magical 100g/km mark for CO2 emissions. This obviously means that, for now at least, the government won’t be taking one single penny for the privilege of using this particular Panda on our roads – how great is that?

0.9l engine fills the bay more than you might expect

0.9l engine fills the bay more than you might expect

Free road tax aside, just how satisfying can a car be with less than one litre of engine capacity providing propulsion? The original Panda was graced with many engines around this size, some of them even being closer to 0.5 litres, but you doubled the car’s kerb weight if you left the handbook in the glovebox, so it got away with it. This car is by no means built from girders but by the very nature of modern cars, it weighs substantially more than the original. Thankfully though, as weight has gone up, so has the efficiency and performance of engines, and this turbocharged unit develops a not-too-shabby 85hp. On the road, there’s very little lag and the power feels adequate, to the point of being quite good fun, even propelling the TwinAir to 60mph in a little over 11 seconds. One aspect of this little engine that was probably accidental, but that I feel deserves special mention nonetheless, is the great ‘putt-putt’ noise it makes. Anyone who ever stuck an ice-lolly stick in the spokes of their bike recognise the sound of this Panda, although my daughter was adamant it sounded ‘like a race-car’. Either way – it’s a great noise, even if it wasn’t entirely intentional.

5 seats and the ability to split them is a £50 option - make sure you tick it

5 seats and the ability to split them is a £50 option – make sure you tick it

Now, there’s a button on the dash marked ‘Eco’, and I’m kinda guessing that if you’re the type of person who’s attracted to the frugal nature of the TwinAir Panda, you’d be tempted to press this button and gaffer tape over it to prevent any possible deactivation. To these people, I say ‘Don’t!’. Yes, it does decrease the performance of the engine, thereby giving you a few more mpg, but sometimes a bit of fun is more important than saving money (or the planet for that matter), and the way this amazing little engine is strangled by the effects of the Eco button is a real shame. The ‘shift up’ display can be a little optimistic regarding the engine’s available torque at the best of times, but in Eco mode it can feel laboured to the point of irritation. If you absolutely have to use it for you conscience to allow you to sleep at night, it’s effects are least noticeable at motorway speeds, so use it there.

A few more squares

A few more squares

To conclude then, the Panda’s popularity is impossible to question, with over 2m units having been shifted already. It’s hugely practical and I think it’s cool, in an understated way, and adding this great little two-cylinder engine to the range can only add to the appeal.

By Ben Harrington


Specifications; Fiat Panda TwinAir Lounge, Engine 0.9l petrol two-cylinder 5 speed manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 145NM, Emissions – 99g/km CO2, Economy – 67.3mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 110 mph, Acceleration – 11.2s 0-62mph, Price – £11,295 OTR, £12,195 as tested.

For full details, go to http://www.fiat.co.uk/uk/new-panda


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